Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Rewind: Ben shares a Halloween surprise featuring the art of Edward Gorey

Oh that crazy Indiana weather!

Shades of “Stranger Things.” I snapped this screenshot from our trip home from parts east today.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Rewind: Ben introduces us to Mercedes Sosa

This is the first I have heard of the Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa (1925-2009), and I'm looking forward to hearing more.

Thursday, October 24, 2019


I was going to write a post today to voice my opposition to the notion that the musical world is "organized" as a meritocracy, but then I reconsidered because I learned that the term "meritocracy" was "coined" as satire in 1958 by Michael Young, Baron Young of Dartington. One of his books, The Rise of the Meritocracy is mentioned in this Wikipedia article on Meritocracy.

A google search for the term gave four and a half million results, and to my surprise many of them seem to take the term seriously.

Go figure.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Blocks, Blocks, and More Blocks

A hundred more blocks arrived today, and now my collection includes examples of compound time:

My meter dice allow me to make different time signatures, and I can generate lots of rhythmic ideas:

I abandoned my search for line-shaped objects to serve as bar lines, and mounted some hand-drawn bar lines on blocks; but then I printed some bar lines, which do look a little more spiffy:

All 134 blocks fit into a tea tin (and I used the 135th to decorate the top of the tin)!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

I was ALSO dreaming of the number three

This morning Michael told me that I woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him that I was also dreaming of the number three. Perhaps it is because I have been plotting a way to use rhythm cubes to explain compound time.

I'm anxiously awaiting a set of 100 unpainted half-inch cubes to arrive in the mail. I want to use them to make comprehensive set of rhythm cubes, complete with ties, and triplets. I will, of course, post the results. Colored cubes are fun, but I think that plain wooden cubes might get the point across more effectively.

I also plotted out a set of meter dice that correspond to basic meters. These dice could be used in combination with the rhythm cubes to generate random rhythmic ideas for pieces of music, or they can be used to explain meter to students.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Helping kids learn to count with blocks!

I made a teaching tool to help my beginning students understand rhythmic notation.

I bought a set of 70 very inexpensive wooden cubes, and, using the eighth note as the smallest unit, I taped groups of them together and labeled them with their corresponding note values using Finale-printed notes (eliminating the staff lines, and setting the page size to 150%). My main goal was to have my students see and feel just how many eighth notes it takes to equal a half note, or how two single eighth notes and a set of two beamed eighth notes are equal in value.

I'm considering making a set to explain compound time, and am still trying to figure out how to incorporate the idea of the pesky dot into something that would make sense to novice music readers. I will be adding sixteenth notes soon, but I'll have to wait until I have more blocks (only half my order arrived).

A crude version of this worked well with the one beginner I taught today. I'm looking forward to how this more elegant set works with the beginners I'm teaching next week!


Now with sixteenth notes, dots, and rests, not to mention proper glue!

I made a PDF of the notes and rests that you can use for your own set of blocks. You can find it here.

From the comments, here's a clickable link to a page that has free music fonts (thanks Matthew Hindson and Daniel Harper).

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Stephen Malinowski's Animations for Haydn's Opus 20 Quartets

Haydn's fugal writing is simply extraordinary. I first encountered it while singing his Creation when I was thirteen, and have thought of his fugal writing as "exalted reigns" ever since. My invented term comes from the passage "He sole on high, exalted reigns," in the "Achieved is his glorious work" section of the Creation. Here's a post I wrote in 2007 about those "exalted reigns."

Here's Malinowski's Haydn Opus 20 playlist (so far, it is a work in progress).

Monday, October 14, 2019

Jessye Norman Sings Les chemins de l'amour

I feel fortunate to have had opportunities to hear Jessye Norman sing in concert, and feel fortunate to still be able to hear her sing by way of recordings. There are really no adequate words to describe Jessye Norman as a singer and as a musician, but I believe that this performance of Poulenc's "Les Chemins de l'amour" shows her at her most spectacular. It moves me deeply. It leaves me speechless.

The Sigal Music Museum!

Marlowe Sigal's amazing collection of musical instruments, which was formerly housed on Gray Cliff Road in my home town of Newton, Massachusetts, has a new home in Greenville, South Carolina. Sigal's contribution to the museum is so great that the Carolina Music Museum will be changing its name.

I wrote a review of Sigal's book, Four Centuries of Musical Instruments in April of 2015, and wrote about visiting his collection a month later.

When I learned of Mr. Sigal's death in 2018, I hoped that his collection would be able to be preserved intact. What we saw of his collection on our visit took up a full basement (floor and shelves on all the walls), most of the first floor of the house (including the organ that was built into the house), and four or five large rooms on the second floor.

Here's an article about Mr. Sigal's gift in the Greenville Journal.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Rewind: Celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day with Traditional Music and Dancing

Ben takes us in the vault to share this performance recorded by KYUK in Alaska.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Listening to Beethoven String Quartets "einmal anders" with Animated Graphical Scores

Go ahead and watch before you read further:

I have enjoyed Stephen Malinowski's animated graphical scores ever since they first appeared on YouTube. I used them in my music appreciation classes to help students who didn't read music follow the scores of pieces we were studying. I imagine there isn't a reader here who hasn't come across one of Malinowski's animations in these musical internets. It's hard to imagine the amount of thought and time and work and love that he has put into this project.

This Beethoven String Quartet project is a collaboration with the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet. He used the Beethoven cycle they recorded for Arte Nova in 2010.

During my decades (!) of being a CD reviewer, I combed through at least a dozen sets of Beethoven Quartets with score in hand. My task was to evaluate the playing and the quality of the recordings and write about the differences between this or that interpretation. Sometimes those differences are difficult to put into words, and sometimes those differences are extremely difficult to put into words. From what I have heard so far (and I'll be listening one quartet at a time, just like you) the recordings are expertly balanced (am I just hearing the viola in this movement from Opus 18 no. 2 more because I can see it--"dressed" in green--or has the engineer brought up the level on that voice when it should be heard?). The playing is excellent, and the interpretation seems to be more equally-voiced than those first-violin-dominant recordings of yore when microphones and mixing boards were far less sophisticated.

Through his work as a composer, as a person fascinated by graphical representation of music (which many of us did by hand with graph paper before we had computers), and as a pioneer in applied computer graphics, Malinowski has found a direct way to explain the way pieces of music work from the inside, and in real time, so that people without any musical background can have a more complete sensory experience with these quartets than they would listening to a recording on its own.

For those of us who get non-computer-aided stimulation from reading scores, I can say that what Malinowski has represented graphically with color, light, and shape, is right on the money. Or non money, because he distributes it for free.

He writes about his methods here.
You can find the complete Beethoven Cycle (on YouTube) here.
And you can follow links from this page that show the history of Malinowski's work and the tools he uses (and has used over the years) to do it.

If you want some more guidance, you can go to my 2010 post about listening to Beethoven String Quartets.

I just learned that Malinowski has just started working on animations of the Haydn Opus 20 Quartets. Coincidentally my Haydn Quartet Project quartet (playing through all the Haydn Quartets in order with a group of quartet novices--people who have never played in a string quartet before) is finishing up Opus 17 and embarking on Opus 20 soon.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Rewind: Gwen Ifill, Ferguson, and Race in America

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Gwen Ifill, Ferguson, and Race in America,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

In Praise of Martin Stock

It’s hard to believe that I would be writing a blog post about the value of the German film composer Martin Stock’s ambient piano music, but when our two-week-old granddaughter is having baby tummy trouble and needs to be comforted, it does the trick. And it calms parents and grandparents too. The odd thing about listening to this music (on shuffle via our daughter’s Alexa machine) is that it allows you to still have thoughts (the quality of which I won’t evaluate in this Stock-stunned state). Normally when I listen to music, I think mainly about the music, and can’t think about much else. This music plants itself firmly in the background, which, I am learning, has a purpose.

If this is music that serves as furniture (was it Satie who thought about music as furniture? I am rendered immobile—bad pun—by this music, and looking it up in another tab on my phone is too much work) this furniture would be soft and supportive, with a womb-like contour. It would have clean wooden frames made from Kindergarten-room birch. And it would be 73 degrees and sunny, with a slight bit of misty humidity here and there, carrying the scent of lemongrass.

Is it musical Soma? I dunno. Listen for yourself and decide.